Angela at work

When did Zoë Kravitz get so good? In Kimi she’s not only the star of the film but almost the only person in it, and she has a grip like a tractor beam on the attention. It helps that she’s beautiful, of course, but there’s more going on here than that.

She plays Angela, a shut-in with a string of emotional conditions, among them germophobia, ADHD, paranoia, neurosis, which suits her job as a human hired to tweak the algorithm of a Siri-like virtual assistant. When someone shouts, “Kimi, you’re a peckerwood,” she’s the one who later adds definitions for “peckerwood” in Kimi’s onboard dictionary – Kimi is always listening. And the covid pandemic, which persists in the residual mask-wearing of the people she sees from her window, has only made her condition worse.

Steven Soderbergh directs and is his own DP, as usual, giving us visual references to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, while the screenplay by David Koepp recycles elements of another “eavesdropper thriller” – Antonioni’s Blow Up. Except, instead of our doughty hero having to decipher nefarious goings-on from a photograph, here Angela comes to believe that a woman has been assaulted, or worse, and that the evidence for that is contained one of Kimi’s recordings. A nice excuse for Soderbergh to indulge his love of tech in scenes where Angela runs the recording through various bits of electronic filtration until… 

Soderbergh can’t be unaware of the fact that his Contagion became very much the movie of the moment at the beginning of the covid pandemic, but he’s a long way from vainglory here, instead delivering a fine genre thriller that’s all about craft – this is a superbly shot and edited film, visually poetic even, with a soundtrack (by Cliff Martinez) that enhances the tension, and it does get tense.

Angela on the run
Angela at bay

For fun, there are reminders of 1940s noirish thrillers – dreamy, echoey-voiced dissolves – and a bit of Die Hard action heroics as the Amygdala corporation gets wind of what Angela has found and sends in the bad guys, forcing Angela into the aircon ducting, and other places. Even outside.

This aspect of the story – big bad megatech – feels like a rote bit of plotting, relying on huge coincidence to fuel a conspiratorial turn and not saying much about social media corporations and their owners that most people haven’t already thought. The #MeToo-style revelation also feels a bit crowbarred in and comes a bit late to be really meaningful. Koepp’s story was doing fine without them, though the writer/co-writer of Carlito’s Way, the original Jurassic Park, the original Spider-Man movie and Panic Room doesn’t need lessons from anyone.

What is interesting and different as an idea is the notion that it’s the most fearful – Angela – who actually turn out to be the most capable when the chips are down, because they’ve lived through the situations already a thousand times and are ready for them, at some instinctive level.

In her blue bob, Kravitz is on screen the entire time, often in cute close-up. Calling her “efficient” sounds like a bit of a put-down, but she puts in a pared-down, lean, no-frills performance designed to aid the forward propulsion of the drama and does it with skill, managing to generate empathy for a character it would be easy not to like. And to think in the recent The Batman, as Catwoman, there was little sign of what we get here – thrust into a proper leading role, Kravitz has raised her game.

The result is a Steven Soderbergh thriller that is so well made and performed that it might slip by almost unnoticed, the sort of film that appears almost to have made itself.

Kimi – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

© Steve Morrissey 2022

The Batman

Catwoman and Batman

The Batman. Let’s get the plot out of the way first, since it’s the most straightforward aspect of the latest bulletin from Gotham City. A caped crusader, a trio of villains in the shape of Paul Dano’s Riddler, Colin Farrell’s Penguin and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, a campaign of murder being waged against city officials. The mayor dies first, in the opening moments of the film, forcing Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to call in Batman – he rates the mysterious vigilante but no one else does. Along the way Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) becomes involved, a good girl in this version, and a crimefighting sidekick, should Batman want one, which he doesn’t seem to. And possible love interest, again if Batman wants one.

As someone whose favourite Batmen are Adam West and Ben Affleck, this Batman is quite a challenge – RPatz as the caped crusader. In fact, as co-writer/director Matt Reeves discussed when news of the film first broke, the choice of Robert Pattinson brings some useful casting baggage with it. Like Bruce Wayne, Pattinson has grown up in public, has learned to adjust to great fame early on and has developed a strategy of dealing with the whole damn thing. In Pattinson’s case, just getting on and making films one after the other, starring in some, taking support roles in others, always aiming to do decent work – the jobbing actor. As for this iteration of Bruce Wayne, the poor once-orphaned billionaire has become a recluse, allowing his alter ego, the masked near-psychopath Batman, to represent him.

Bigger, darker, more gothic. There, I said it. It’s been the standard line on all the Batmans since Tim Burton re-invented the character for the screen all those years ago. And somehow, Reeves has managed to find a way to make his Batman – The Batman, goddamit – even more sombre, gigantic and stygian.

But beneath all the murk, The Batman is a plea for a return to normality. For governments to govern, for city officials not to be corrupt, for Batmen to be allowed to go about their crime-fighting business. Intercession is its overarching idea – what is Batman but an intermediary in the whole process of crime and justice? – and composer Michael Giacchino makes this clear with his choice of musical theme, Schubert’s Ave Maria, a sung prayer beseeching a higher authority to pray for us, help us, now and at the hour of our death.

Bruce Wayne with shirt off
Bruce Wayne, emo kid

If Christian Bale was the growling Batman, Pattinson is the whispering one, a 1970s Clint Eastwood calmly and impassively going about his business with narrowed eyes, while his villainous opponents function almost as Scorsese criminals – they’re gangsters more than anything else, most obviously in the shape of Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, the goodfella crime boss. As for the other two, there is no Lycra or fancy attire here. Paul Dano’s Riddler wears a kind of gimp mask with spectacles and is a creepy and original re-invention of an old favourite. Dano refers vocally to Frank Gorshin’s Riddler (Adam West era) a couple of times, but otherwise this is all his. Colin Farrell, unrecognisable under the latex, is a much more straightforward bad guy, a hoodlum. For all Farrell’s brilliance in the role, Penguin suffers from the same affliction as Falcone. The unwritten rule of Batman states that there’s only really room for one fleshed-out villain in each story, and this time out it’s not him.

For all its fantastic parts, the actors, the acting, the set design, The Batman a lumpy and formless whole. There is no real story. It’s a fairly event-free zone, and largely comprises Batman turning up at the scene of a crime, not saying very much, and then standing there like a big lump before heading off to glower at the scene of yet another crime. At various points we see that Bruce Wayne wears also black eye make up beneath the mask, to complete the effect. Along with Pattinson’s floppy longish hair dyed dark, it’s tempting to see Wayne as a shut-in emo kidult, a My Chemical Romance fan who’s never quite grown up. Bruce Wayne has daddy issues. So, too, does Catwoman, we later learn. So, almost inevitably, does Riddler. Penguin, Falcone… this isn’t their story.

It’s a fascinating film rather than a really entertaining one, never boring but oddly not gripping. It’s probably worth watching more than once, not least to drink in Reeves’s stylistic borrowings from epic movies of the silent era – all those vast tableaux, a colour palette tending to the monotone, cameras far more static than usual. This is only fitting – 100 years ago, in his mask and cape, Douglas Fairbanks invented all this stuff with The Mark of Zorro, after all.

The Batman – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2022